49ers and Clock Management

Sep 4, 2013 at 8:37 AM


Beyond personnel and schemes, how might the 49ers improve during the 2013 season?

Consider two non-plays from last year's Super Bowl. On the 49ers' first series, they hit on a pass downfield for a first down. However, because the play clock had expired, a penalty erased the gain, disrupted the 49er offensive flow, and probably altered subsequent play calling. Later, during the failed fourth-quarter goal-line assault, the Niners had, initially, the perfect play called, a high-conviction run that held promise as it got under way, with the blockers seemingly set up at advantageous angles. However the 49ers nipped that play, post-snap, in its nascent bud, calling time out, as per their regular-season pattern, because the play clock neared zero.

No doubt Kaepernick has worked hard this offseason to master the nuances of reading defenses, wrangling huddles, and making at-the-line adjustments, including pre-snap reads and audibles. And maybe Mangini can work with the staff to accelerate the play-calling or even help to install more time-friendly quick-huddle alternatives. Surely Coach Harbaugh, in his own sweet way, has addressed the problem.

The value of timeouts depends on individual game situations, but some teams often fall into the habit of calling timeouts willy-nilly just because of confusion in the huddle or too few or many players on the field. Obviously, if you trail by a touchdown with fourth-and-one at the opponent's nine-yard line and have eighteen seconds left, you want to call that timeout. The point is, you want to have that timeout to call, and maybe two more, should you make a first down; you do not want to have previously squandered them.

How squandered? Say you send your punt team out to kick from your opponent's forty-yard line. Your punter counts only nine teammates on the field. Probably better to take the five-yard penalty rather than waste a timeout. (Your opponent may decline it anyway, depending on down and distance, if you have an accomplished out-of-bounds punter.) Or say you have third and twenty from your own forty and intend to run a draw and then punt. The play clock ticks down. This one's not as clear cut, and depends also on the score, time remaining, strengths/weaknesses of both teams, and timeouts remaining. Ideally, you want to have previously weighed taking the five-yard penalty, versus the value of that timeout, before merely making the Pavlovian response by calling it.

Old-school coaches hate to give up even a scintilla of field position. They would rather hoard yardage than timeouts. But today's high-octane, quick-strike NFL offenses render timeouts even more important than in the ball-control era. Coaches also worry that a team in disarray might more likely make big mistakes, a legitimate concern. But probably not every occasion demands an automatic, pre-programmed timeout.

On first down of a scoreless game at midfield a back sweeps right, turns the corner near the sideline, plants his right foot, and launches himself forward for a six-yard gain. The hometown crowd applauds. Announcers gush. Coaches beam. Except an official overrules the play, claiming the plant foot was out of bounds. Three-yard gain. The offensive team's coach grabs for his red challenge flag, nervously fingers it while he consults with the coaches upstairs. Meanwhile, screens at home and in the stands show multiple replays. The play is close, close as upper-deck cheap seats. The announcers, after much discussion, conclude that the back's right foot, in fact, remained in bounds before the launch. The booth coaches, independently, agree. But it's close, very close. The head coach throws the challenge flag. The referee repairs to the sideline monitor, dons headphones, and ducks down like a cameraman in a Buster Keaton movie. While he does, both teams go out for extended lunches, Mayan ancestors reconstruct a pyramid stone by stone, and Halley's Comet comes around again. After consultation with the booth officials, the referee toggles a switch and reports: not enough evidence to overturn the call.

Boo. Boo! Booooooo! We was robbed. It ain't fair. Stone the ref. Call out the National Guard. Repeal prohibition. At the very least, confiscate Phil Simms's microphone. The hometown coach vigorously motions the ref over to the sidelines, jawbones, gesticulates, pleads incredulously toward the heavens. None of this changes the ref's mind. The home team loses a timeout.

Yes, it's irrelevant whether the back's foot nicked the sideline or not. What matters: whether enough evidence exists, from the officials' points of view, to overturn the original call. In these situations, one cannot think like a fan, an announcer, or an automaton. Above all coaches, highly competitive by training and aptitude, should not think like coaches. Better that they should think, and see, like replay officials.

All too easily, intense OCD coaches can transfer their competitive fervor from the game to the refs, as if the men-in-stripes had morphed into the opponent. Also, booth coaches, responsible for relaying replay results to the head guy, are prejudiced not just in favor of their own team, but in looking at film in a coach-centric way. We humans see through our eyes, not with them. Maybe NFL teams should hire filmmakers, with knowledge of how camera angles, lighting, framing, and other elements influence viewing, to assist in the booth.

Someday, NFL teams, as sample sizes increase, might keep stat sheets on replay officials, just as baseball hitters do on umpires' strike-zones, to determine different crews' tendencies in multiple circumstances. Even so, perfection will likely remain out of focus so long as human eyes do the looking.

A coach might ponder, also, before rotely throwing a challenge flag: does the possible gain from an overturned play outweigh the risk of squandering a timeout? For instance, if the above foot-out-of-bounds example, tweaked, meant the difference between a touchdown or a field goal attempt, and you trailed by four points in the fourth quarter, then you might want to dang well throw that challenge flag. However, in the example as given, does the difference between second-and-four and second-and-seven override the risk of losing a timeout?

Game situations do mitigate. For instance, a coach may want to call a timeout anyway, and a challenge may buy him extra seconds. Or maybe he wants to show an individual player that the head coach has his back. Perhaps he just wants to change the rhythm of the game. At any rate, head coaches already have enough to do during a game. They could benefit from reliable assistants up in the booth with immediate access to analytics regarding various scenarios.

Such game-management minutia may seem, well, minute. But in the hyper-competitive world of NFL championship football, every little detail matters. If you don't believe that, just ask 49er fans about last year's Super Bowl. The clock-management portion of game management did not by itself lose that game. Neither did it help to win it.
The views within this article are those of the writer and, while just as important, are not necessarily those of the site as a whole.


0 Comments

  • No Comments

Facebook Comments



More San Francisco 49ers News



Ex-49ers CB Richard Sherman also being investigated in connection to a hit and run, per Schefter

By David Bonilla
Jul 14, 2021

ESPN's Adam Schefter reported this morning that former San Francisco 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman was arrested and booked on a charge of "burglary domestic violence." ESPN later reported that a person called 911 around 2 a.m. PT and said that an adult male family member who did not live at the residence — allegedly Sherman — was attempting to force his way into the home. The intruder reportedly fought with police upon their arrival but was eventually apprehended and later booked into the Seattle Correctional Facility. Sherman's wife, Ashley, told the Seattle Times that both she and the couple's kids are fine and that no one was harmed during the



John Lynch reaches out to Richard Sherman and wife; 49ers ready to offer resources, support

By David Bonilla
Jul 15, 2021

Richard Sherman is going through a difficult situation right now. He was arrested on Wednesday morning after allegedly crashing his vehicle, then causing a disturbance at the residence of his in-laws, and eventually resisting law enforcement. Sherman was charged with "burglary domestic violence," with the "domestic violence" designation being assigned due to the cornerback being related to individuals inside the residence where the incident took place. While Sherman and officers suffered some minor injuries before the cornerback was apprehended, no one else was injured. More troubling was the



Who Are The Best Follows For 49ers News and Content?

By Marc Adams
Jul 20, 2021

Wait...what? Who writes an article about beat writers? Whose stupid idea was this? We like to read about players and coaches...the team - not the people who cover them. Right? We are just one week away from the San Francisco 49ers reporting to training camp. Although the first practice does not start until Saturday, July 31st, the players will begin filing in next Tuesday (July 27th). So I thought I would share my favorite follows, when it comes to 49ers news and content. And though this may end up being a train wreck of an idea, here are some of the really talented people who keep me informed: For 49ers news, notes, content We have many great people who cover the 49ers. The two beat writers I most recommend are



Kyle Juszczyk: Kyle Shanahan and Mike McDaniel's vision makes the 49ers dangerous

By David Bonilla
Jul 21, 2021

Kyle Juszczyk spent his first four NFL seasons with the Baltimore Ravens before signing with the San Francisco 49ers in 2017. The best fullback in the league re-signed with the team in March, ensuring he remains in the Bay Area through the 2025 season. It sounds like Juszczyk has no regrets about the decision to remain with head coach Kyle Shanahan. It's an offensive scheme that suits him and takes advantage of his unique versatility. Juszczyk may not have had the same opportunities with another organization. "I definitely have had the most fun in San Francisco because I am a little more featured," Juszczyk said this week on The Ross Tucker Football Podcast. "'Featured' is different as a fullback. I'm not the featured halfback or the No. 1 receiver. ...


Featured

More by D.C. Owens

More Articles

Share 49ersWebzone